Facebook and cookies n milk journalism

cookies Here’s a paragraph from an article on Digiday earlier today:

On the PopSugar Moms Facebook page, PopSugar’s most popular page with nearly a million likes, most videos surpass 100,000 views. A few have cracked a million views.This video about milk-and-cookie shot glasses went viral, racking up more than 9.8 million views since its Feb. 25 post date.

You can read the full article here if you want but the essential takeaway is this: Cookies in the shape of shotglasses drove obscenely large amounts of traffic to a site that harnessed the power of Facebook native video.

That’s fair enough but, having listened to Andy Mitchell, director of news partnerships, Facebook, speak at the International Journalism Festival recently about how user choice and engagement would be one of the key drivers for ‘surfacing’ content on Facebook, I do wonder this: As most journalism – particularly regional news – has literally nothing to do with cutesy shotglass cookies and milk, are those stories going to sink without trace?

Mitchell spoke about Facebook’s future at the IJF (the video of his talk is at the end of this post) and it’s clear that video and native publishing is where he and Facebook see that future pointing (Buzzfeed and the New York Times are among those publishers who are in the first tranche of working with Facebook on this) and that Facebook’s algorithm was key to content flourishing in the Facebook ecosystem.

He’s obviously used to giving keynotes and was initially unruffled when the less-than-enthused audience questions started up. But he did start to get exasperated when various hacks started quizzing him about responsibility, integrity and censorship. George Brock has written a great post on his thoughts (and he was one of the questioners, too). My notes from the session at this point say “AM said a lot of words, none of which answered the question” – and I see George Brock came to the same conclusion in his post too.

So Facebook thinks it is a perfect platform, particularly with regards to mobile, for news brands but there are a few things that I wonder about:

1. If your audience growth strategy is tied to commercialising on your platforms, how quickly can a regional news publisher adapt (again) to make content commercially viable on Facebook? I believe in the idea of social media news, with its own commercial life support system untied to a platform, but I don’t see anyone pointing the way in how to crack that yet. And Facebook is not going to  trip over itself to help publishers find a solution when it is competing in that very same space.

2. PopSugar’s cookies-n-milk video numbers are phenomenal. Not sure a crime scene in Leicester is going to be the same kind of draw, even proportionally. Lifestyle content – and the Lad Bible, of course – can be numbers monsters; regional brands who try to emulate that have to constantly reinvent how they are packaged, pitched and presented or the inevitable “slow news day” comments pile in. They risk damaging the brand’s reputation. Even apparently popular regulars, like property porn articles, start drawing criticism from jaded Facebookers after a very short time.

3. Cookies-n-milk stories aren’t journalism but they are informative, fun, sharable and popular so, if getting on people’s news feed is the goal, is Facebook – that monster mainstream sites rely on so much – descending into a Reddit/VideoJug repository of trivia and how-to-decorate cupcakes or how-to hairstyle time-lapse videos, with an occasional cryptic status update from an old school friend? Is the only way to buck the algorithm is to play by Facebook’s rules and post native video or text? That’s not so much a strategy as a distress tactic.

4. Facebook says it wants to help publishers – specifically news brands with their “slow mobile experience” get their content front and centre on a massive publishing platform, that said brands happen not to have any commercial stake in or ownership of. And that might just be ok, but Facebook effectively washes its hands of what happens next. It says the new feed algorithm responds to reader interactions, and that users should use other sources, not just news feed, to get a holistic view of the news. Personally, I’d say before a Facebook exec makes a breezy public statement like that again, he or she should read some of the comments under an average news story; they’d quickly realise most readers don’t even click-through to the article – they read the social media headline, look at the photo, form an opinion and type ‘slow news day’ or possibly post that damn photo of Michael Jackson eating popcorn. Very few go off to find a wider source of information to add context, nuance and depth.

Some commentators say journalists and mainstream news brands have moved past the point of reporting news, and are now curators and editors of news, verifying and checking the social noise to sort the clear signal. That’s a fair idea, but where does the Facebook strategy (and algorithm) fit into this? Can you edit and curate if the platform where content is being published dictates, on the interactions of the shot glass cookies crowd, whether that work is seen? And on that note, how long can Facebook resist calling itself a publisher?

International Journalism Festival video:

Interesting reads (weekly)

  • This analysis of Twitter’s shift from developer darling to standalone creator is a fascinating read. I remember the blog post alluded to in this article, and the shockwaves it caused about Twitter’s supposed retreat from openness, dev culture and the open web.
    Of course, Twitter has never pretended to be a charity; it employs people, and they need paying. It has offices, shareholders, expense accounts – it’s a company that exists to make money and grow. The Meerkats and Datasifts, that build businesses on someone else’s data, are always gong to be at risk. “Twitter’s story in many respects makes me think of Google: both companies started out benefiting greatly from openness and the power of both connecting users to what they were interested in and opening up powerful APIs to developers. The monetization model is even similar: note the AdSense reference above. Over time, though, Google has pulled more and more of its utility onto its own pages (and the revenue balance in the company has followed), just as Twitter focused on its own apps, and now Google is even starting to eat its best customers like travel websites and insurance agents (members-only), just like Twitter ate Datasift.”

    tags: Twitter api social+media

  • What is says on the tin.

    tags: video how-to

  • “what we have here are ignorant people (Vaynerchuk, Brogan, Kawasaki, and friends) telling big brands and agencies to dump their money into unproven platforms, or platforms with really shady metrics that they can totally fudge and claim their successful to journalists who don’t really know better. A tech blog may know to call out Vaynerchuk’s portfolio company, MeerKat, for spamming Twitter in order to grow their service, but other publications like AdAge won’t. And guess which one of those publications the brands and advertisers are reading? So the money continues to flow from the agencies and brands and that leads to VCs continuing to prop up these companies”OUCH

    tags: Google+ social media

  • I had no idea it was based on such an everyday annoyance as an unavailable name. Now, Flicker would just look weird. “We wanted Flicker, but the guy who had it wouldn’t sell,” says co-Founder Caterina Fake. “So I suggested to the team, ‘Let’s remove this “e” thing.’ They all said, ‘That’s too weird,’ but I finally ground everyone down. Then of course, it became THE thing and everyone started removing vowels right and left.””

    tags: flickr marketing

  • Where next? I like Google Glass and it’s been useful for our journalism, but the problem was it was made by developers, and really it’s a fashion accessory for most people. So, we’re expected to fit around the device, not vice versa. This piece on where wearables are headed is worth a read. “We’re at an interesting point with these devices that feel analogue but have a subtle digital participation. We are used to watches being so simple that making them into tiny phones on your wrist may prove interesting to some but will create a split between those designing for aesthetics and those designing for function.

    When you get ready in the morning it seems natural to use voice. I don’t often talk to my computer because it has a rich set of interfaces but you could imagine a talking mirror, a piece of furniture that would work. With wearables we are in a weird place because they are a mix of analogue things and digital devices so do I use a crown or do I talk and tap?  Apple has done both with Siri and double touch but they have also included the scroll wheel from 20 years ago.”

    tags: new york times NYT wearables Glass

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.

Interesting reads (weekly)

  • Research paper by Matthew Hindman into the regional news business in the US. Fascinating, frustrating and familiar… “Hindman’s research finds that although national news websites have robust traffic, traditional local newspapers are severely behind in adopting the technology and digital content practices needed to retain and grow audiences. No business model – advertising, paywalls, or nonprofit funding – can succeed long-term without continuous digital audience growth. Hindman suggests a variety of proven techniques for newspapers to implement, including faster page load time, improved user experience, personalized content recommendation, social media optimization, and A/B testing.

    tags: future+of+news innovation disruption

  • ‘If your mother says she loves you, check it out’… Or not, in the case of Rolling Stone. So much has been written about the Rape on Campus ‘story’ but this is one of the most considered reads around what it says about Journalism and what happens when the scramble for a Good Story overtakes fundamental training. “The Story Too Good To Check happens at the intersection of journalism’s two imperatives: Be truthful, and be interesting. This doesn’t provide a lot of room to operate—almost everything that’s true is boring and almost everything that’s interesting is false. There’s an asymmetry in the profession, however; journalists are expected to be truthful, but they are rewarded for being interesting. It is into that asymmetry that “A Rape On Campus” fell. “

    tags: journalism Rolling+Stone

  • Vertical video isn’t going away although I could do with the shaky ‘LOOK AT MAH PERISCOPE OF THE OFFICE!” dying down, like, yesterday, this is a good set of how-tos for getting it right.

    tags: video tips how-to

  • Casey Neistat responding to a question about why he’s using YouTube to make video blog posts (yeah, I can’t say vlog and keep a straight face): “I have premiered movies at Cannes Film Festival, the Sundance Festival and written, directed, edited and starred in my very own HBO TV series. I was awarded the Rockefeller Grant for Film Making and I am a lifetime member of the Sundance Institute. Creating a new movie every 24 hours and releasing that movie to an audience of hundreds of thousands of people is an evolution in filmmaking. Our job as creative’s is to further define any medium and also define a new cliché and not to adhere to generations past. To suggest that this is anything but film making is to highlight some preconceived falsehood of what film making is.”

    tags: video youtube journalism

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.

Interesting reads (weekly)

  • This… “…media ad experiences are awful. I wonder sometimes if folks at media companies ever try clicking their own links from within social media like Twitter or Facebook, just to experience what a damn travesty of a user experience it is. Pop-ups that hide the content and that can’t be scrolled in an in-app browser so you effectively can’t ever close them to read the article. Hideous banner ads all over the page.”

    tags: facebook futureofnews

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.